Brexit or not - are you ready?

Eleanor Kay, Policy Adviser (Agriculture & Forestry) ,
22 Jan 2019

Apparently 62% of Scottish businesses have done no contingency or scenario planning to help prepare for Brexit. Whether that’s exactly right, the figure doesn’t surprise us here at Scottish Land & Estates, and indeed we’d expect it to be even higher in land based businesses.

It reminds me of a comment made by Neil Wilson, HSBC’s Head of Agriculture, at the 2018 Northern Farming Conference. He said: “Doing nothing right now isn’t a disaster, but not having even thought about whether you need to do something is a worry.” 

I can certainly see the attraction of waiting for politicians to work through their Brexit debates and cross-party negotiations, and taking a business as usual attitude until more detail is available. On the other hand, there is a strong argument for using this time to get ready – not just for Brexit but for whatever the future holds.

In the latest edition of Land Business I wrote about forthcoming agriculture policy in both Scotland and England, with the hope of making some sense from the current fog of information. Whilst it is clear that Scotland won’t be taking a schedule in the Westminster Agriculture Bill, with Cabinet Secretary Fergus Ewing announcing a Scottish Bill eventually, we still need a long-term, post-2024 plan for future support. 

A good start would be stability and clear guidance on what the industry will be transitioning to would be welcomed. However, we can be fairly confident that future support is likely to have a stronger focus on public goods including carbon capture, climate change mitigation, biodiversity, flood prevention and possibly even quality food production. 

The narrative from government isn’t changing, so although we lack the hard copy of a newly designed scheme we know what it is they’re likely to want to support. That’s enough to at least start taking a good look at your business model, even if your end decision is to wait-and-see before taking any definite action. 

Failing to anticipate what’s coming next could be very damaging at an individual business and estate level. Regardless of Brexit and government strategies, there remain the realities of market exposure, changing consumer expectations or challenging weather conditions. 

Our separate information sheet gives more details on what businesses can do to prepare but here are our seven top tips:

  1. Understand the skill sets of your staff and address knowledge gaps with training
  2. Focus on efficiency and building resilience with less reliance on basic payments
  3. Know your outputs, markets, cost of production and look for ways to change, if needed
  4. Think of the public goods you could deliver, such as higher animal welfare, carbon capture, improved soil and air quality, flood reduction, and improved access
  5. Explore business diversification and ways of spreading risk
  6. Collaborate with neighbours, including grant applications and achieving economies of scale 
  7. Consider the role of precision farming, technology and data analysis in your business